The year our oldest son dropped out of high school and became an addict was a very dark and difficult year for us. It was also a time of deeper exposure to life’s most important lessons. I didn’t fully realize it until much later, but it was during that anguished time that I gained a greater understanding of humility, honesty, courage, trust and grace.
In this week’s post I want to share with you what I learned about humility.
Humility is, in many ways, the opposite of shame. Shame causes us to judge and attack ourselves for our limits and weaknesses, leaving us scrambling to hide or pretend or try harder. Humility, on the other hand, does not make negative judgments about our limits and weaknesses, but instead embraces them as reality, as simply what is. Shame pushes us to say “I should” even in the face of our powerlessness. Humility frees us to say “I can’t” when we are faced with things that are beyond our control.
When our son was using, I thought I should be able to do all kinds of things that I could not do. Intellectually I knew better. Even experientially I knew better. But this was my child. Everything in me seemed to scream that “I should.” I should be able to figure out when he was using and when he was not. I should be able to reason with him. I should be able to make him stop. I should be able to keep him away from his using friends. I should be able to get him the right help. I should be able to protect him from harm, including his self-harm.
I tried. For months I tried. But I could not. I could not do any of these things. Believing I should be able to do what I could not do, and endlessly trying to control what I could not control, left me in my own insanity. It was only when I grew sick and tired of my own insanity that I was able to recognize that my life had become unmanageable. And it was only then that I was ready to learn new lessons in humility.
Humility helped to restore my sanity. I could not do for my son any of what I, as his parent, wanted so desperately to do. I could not. That simple truth was excruciatingly painful. Yet it was wonderfully freeing. And it ultimately was what opened the door for my healing and for our healing as a family, because healing could occur only as I lived in that humble truth and got out of God’s way. I stopped trying to do what only God could do when I humbly admitted, “I cannot.”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus taught us, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We open ourselves to receiving God’s healing in our lives when we come to the end of trying to control what we cannot control. Every time we acknowledge our spiritual poverty–-our creaturely dependence on our loving Maker–-and live in the truth of our need for God, the kingdom of heaven is ours. When we let ourselves be who we are as God’s much loved children and we let God be God, the doors and windows of our lives are thrown open for us to receive God and all God’s love and life and goodness into our lives. This is the amazing grace of true humility. It is the central dynamic of the first three steps of the Twelve Steps.